Encounters in Apo Reef

A get together during Lenten season is a yearly tradition of our family. I never miss one for it is the only time our big patriarchal clan gathers in one occasion aside from Christmas. This year, I broke the tradition because I chose to spend Holy Week in Apo Reef with my virtual friends, or to say it bluntly, with strangers. This was one of the reasons why cutting my stay short in our home province left me with a heavy heart as the jeepney, where I was sitting, moved too fast from my mom and relatives who were still waving their hands at me when they vanished through the distance.

Strangers can instantly become friends in cyberspace. People get to travel to far-flung areas by hopping from one travel website to another. This is how the contemporary world changed the way people meet and get introduced to places. However, nothing can still beat the experience of seeing these virtual faces move in action, hearing them send messages to you through their voices, and knowing that they do exist in real life. Same is true with having to savor the fresh air of the places you only see in the internet.

Is it worthy breaking a family tradition in exchange of conquering a new place with your virtual friends?

Under the bright and occult full moon, over a bottle of brandy, I was sitting next to four people I only first met before sunrise that day except for one. They are people whose middle name is Travel. As we settled ourselves comfortably on the sand outside our tents, we were also beginning to share our experiences during the course of our individual travels, including stories behind each quest which weren’t openly known. Each story told was crisp, unfiltered, and genuine.

Although I had the time to share my own, I reminded myself that I would learn more when I listen. So I consumed most of my time listening from their experiences and anecdotes in each trip they fulfilled domestically and internationally.

We all share the same penchant for traveling, but they traveled more often than I do, making me more inspired to continue my pursuit to reach every country in the globe. To navigate the whole world is everybody’s dream. Thus, when you are in the middle of somewhere where all around you speak of untainted beauty and bounty of life like that of Apo Reef, and you are with people who supply every grain of support you need, all the more you fuel that courage to explore the world.

That day, we were exploring Apo Reef.

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I joined this trip after reading an invitation from Chino’s Facebook timeline. I have been raving about Apo Reef before. So upon seeing the opportunity to finally put the plan into reality, I immediately seized it without second thoughts.

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We flew from Manila to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, rode a van to Sablayan, then ferried by a motorized boat from the mainland to Apo Reef for three hours. Twenty minutes before reaching the island, our smooth sail was orchestrated by a herd of dolphins that was seemingly sunbathing few feet away from our boat. If it was just a preview of the whole trip, it had already surpassed my expectations.

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We reached the island’s fine and cream-white shore that was made more gleaming by the sun three hours shy before twilight. We pitched our tents and unloaded our baggage after finding a shady area; then began exploring the place.

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The lake lying at the heart of the island was a revelation. Its calmness was a therapy to our restless bodies. While discovering its mystic appeal when we were on board a raft, I was also discovering the characters of each person I was with. Jay is the kuya (older brother) of the group who always makes sure to sojourn around the country every month. Our itinerary wouldn’t be polished if not for Marx who juggles being a traveler and private employee in one. Joana is the muse of the group who shared to me that Calaguas is the most beautiful beach she’d seen. She had international trips first before venturing on local travels. On the other hand, the comical personality of Chino made everything light as we were moving to the other end of the lagoon.

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I looked around me while on the raft. Every living thing seemed so alive. The buoyant leaves of the mangroves mirrored through the waters of the lagoon. The clouds were painted stunningly above the towering lighthouse. The whole place looked healthy— a clear sign that it is protected by people who care for our environment.

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The group walked at wooden bamboos as we ended the tour at the lagoon and started traversing our way to the lighthouse. Above, we were enthralled by the full view of Apo Reef— diverse, teeming, and comforting. The lighthouse was situated perfectly there. If I didn’t know what lighthouses are for, I would think that they were made for humans to see the entirety of protected areas, because all landscapes look more picturesque when they are fully viewed above.

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After spending sometime at the lighthouse, we all decided to hit the beach before feasting on our dinner. Under the watch of a lovely sunset, we enjoyed swimming on the clean waters of Apo Reef while observing how the timid sun disappeared on the other side of the island. The reddish-orange sky mixed with the white thin clouds was the mark it left for us to adore.

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It was a timeless beauty which could be best captured by our eyes, not by any kind of lens; and which could be best described by our joy, not by our words.

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The morning came too quick the next day for our final immersion activity. We boarded the boat again for an underwater tour. Below the sea level, marine life was very abundant and admirable. Corals in different forms, fishes in various sizes, and a sea that was so clean and clear had blown my consciousness away. Although I have an impaired vision, it was one of the most beautiful scenes my eyes had gazed upon. It was incomparable.

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Two hours had passed and we were back in our camp to pack. On Easter Sunday, we sailed back to the mainland of Sablayan after breakfast, spent another night there, and then rode a bus to Manila. When I reached home, I started receiving text messages from my parents and relatives telling me how our yearly affair in our province went without me.

They told me that they missed me. I missed them too. But I didn’t have any regrets spending it in Apo Reef with strangers or virtual friends because at the end of that trip, I already stopped calling them strangers and I have learned to cross the term “virtual” before their names.

Our encounter in Apo Reef was real. And I was glad it happened.

More pictures…

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The Beauty in Dying

Everyone was quiet and stationary inside the room. The only palpable sound was coming from a corner where she was sitting. She was covering her face with her hands that were made damp by tears. She couldn’t talk straight. Her bothered friends were circling around her while asking what brought her to weeping.

Abby finally gathered enough courage and managed to mumble words from her breaking voice, “My first love just died. Skater Boy died.” Then she got back to crying.

Outside, the sky was dark and it was raining. But the pounding of Abby’s heart was more intense than the drizzle beating the roof. The weather saturating the surrounding couldn’t get glummer than her emotions.

She continued telling a tale. She recounted receiving a call from a friend who broke the news about the passing of Skater Boy. It was the code name she had given him during their days together in high school. They grew up as childhood friends. Until eventually, Abby felt her love for him beyond and deeper than friendship. Her young love didn’t prosper; but they remained good friends.

Skater Boy was an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Middle East. When a group of terrorists attacked a hospital in Yemen and gunned down several medical workers, he was there attending to his duties. He was a nurse. And a bullet put end to his life.

It was the day when a morning became too difficult and challenging for Abby. She was in Boracay and getting ready for a whole day activity when her excitement turned into grief after receiving the tragic news. Together with her other companions, she was about to celebrate the birthday of her good friend for eight years. It was strange that Skater Boy’s death had to coincide with the life they were about to rejoice.

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The event turned more ironic on Abby’s side— which of the two bears more weight, a life to celebrate or a death to mourn? Is it possible to have a celebration while grieving?

When this happened, she was surrounded by her close friends who would comfort her. So she wiped her tears and forced a weak smile while agreeing to proceed with what they had planned for the day.

It was the early sign that Abby was learning to stand after a loss.

Death is a natural thing. Humanity will all succumb to it. The only uncertain things are when, how, and where.

Death lets you value people more.

It lets you see people around you.  When someone close to you dies, you learn to count those breathing humans who matter to you. You recognize what you have than what you lost. Around you, you see life instead of death.

Abby’s first smile upon bursting into tears was right after her friends started poking fun at her while she was tracing the memory of lane of her and Skater Boy together. She lost someone, but four souls who tried to lighten up a melancholy day were with her during that moment.

Death takes a life, but it opens many.

When you lost a person you are so attached with, you mourn like there’s no more next sun. But eventually, you see and recognize that you have to continue with your life because others also draw strength from you; that you still have many dreams to realize; that yours does not end after one’s passing; and yours will unfold in a different way.

You appreciate the present and it becomes very important while you see the future more promising.

The death of Abby’s first love didn’t only open hers, but also the lives of the people she was with when the incident happened. They felt the need to enjoy many mornings ahead of them. So they all ran towards the powdery white sand of Boracay. They sailed through the island and snorkeled to experience the sea’s rich marine life.

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She also convinced her friends to try different water sports activities. Their bodies were stretched to its fullest after the fly fish ride. They danced with various fishes under the sea when they tried the famous helmet diving. They screamed their hearts out while in the middle of the air during a parasailing ride. And they ended the night at a bar partying, and drinking all the pitchers of beer and bottles of vodka their bodies could sustain.

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Their whole day—aside from fun— was punctuated by Abby’s emotional outburst.

Death teaches you to see the goodness in people.

Someone’s demise gives you more reason to recall how a person lived his life. You see how he was as a child, brother, friend, partner, and human to strangers. You see all the good traits of the person and everything he did which for you was worth emulating. You see that the loss isn’t just only on you, but also to those who loved him because his life had touched and inspired many. Then it alters your views about humanity, because you realize that there’s goodness in people.

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They were sailing the rough sea of Boracay on a rainy December morning when Abby was sharing how Skater Boy lived his life; how he was cherished by his family and friends. According to Abby, he was the breadwinner of the family who— during his death— was still sending his younger sibling to school and supporting his parents. He was one good soul. And his goodness lives through Abby’s life and those he had affected.

Death shows and gives you opportunities.

After remembering one’s life and death, unconsciously, you are suddenly introduced to opportunities you have while you’re still on earth, breathing. Opportunities you missed and those you chose to dissuade before; opportunities to do the things you want, to fulfill something you wish to, and be someone you want to be; and opportunities to finally begin something that you are afraid of starting.

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While Abby was having a serious discussion with her friends at the beach, she shared regrets about not taking the moments she could’ve spent with her first love. Those were the opportunities she just let passed. So Abby made a promise not to waste opportunities anymore. Instead, grab them if she finds them worthy.

Death reminds you that you are human.

You Only Live Once (YOLO) because you are human. This is what death passes on to everybody. It is a constant reminder that wherever you are in the world, regardless of your status in the society, you cannot escape it and you will fall to it eventually. So the choice on how you will live your life solely relies on you.

You are human. You experience to succeed and fail. You know the joy of love and the pain of rejection. You know how it feels to be happy and sad. And you know the exact opposite of the feelings you choose to harbor.

Abby is a very strong lady and a fighter with full of personality. Her friends rarely see her weakness. However, she revealed her fragile persona when the news about Skater Boy reached her. Her heart melted because of him. Maybe, someone can mold it back again someday.

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There are reasons why the death of her first love happened during the celebration of her friend’s birthday, while she was with her close friends, and when she was in Boracay.

A birthday, friendship, and beautiful place are perfect blend to comfort a dejected heart and let someone see beautiful things after a traumatic loss.

Acceptance became easy for Abby because she learned to see the beauty in dying.

When she was in the plane that would bring her home, Abby was staring at the unknown through the window panel. Her eyes were misty again.  She just ended another trip. But her love for Skater Boy and the relationship they built together will forever remain.

Mitch Albom was right, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

My Torch in Darkness

As the fresh scent of nature greeted me with its soothing upshot, I retorted back with a wide grin. I was new in the place. And my ignorance made me start tracing the fine white sand of the shore as the waves gently touched my feet. Walking brought me to the cave reposing next to the beach. I stayed there for quite a while trying to figure out a recent heavy event that caught me unprepared.

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When I became a seeker of peace, I ran to Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas in Quezon province with hopes that it would cuddle my weary soul. It did. I began unleashing my worries as I gazed at its boundless sea; the noise clouding inside my head shut off as I permitted its silent atmosphere occupy my mind; and the strong breeze brought by the abundant trees in the cove seemed to lift the burden I was harboring for quite some time. However, no matter how consoling the place could be, reality found its way to confront me that I was there because I was detaching myself from a dream— that that day turned me into a fugitive of my own dream so escape befitted my recourse to seek refuge.

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It was my first travel, and it happened four years ago right after I decided to leave law school. When the news about my decision broke out among people in my circle, messages of encouragement flooded my mobile phone and social networking sites. Friends who went through the same agony even tried articulating that falling off was normal especially to working students like me. They also convinced me to consider deviation from my routine so I would redeem the desire to fulfill it.

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That time, I knew my case was different. Days and nights came too unhurried as I devoted most of my time thinking why I suddenly lost the drive to pursue my dream. I thought I was a failure in that aspect of my life. The noise saturating my sanity even became louder and persistent in stealing my sleep.

One day, I woke up raiding the internet to look for a place to go just to be surprised that many people were already exploring the world while I was wasting time overthinking about a botched dream. I knew things weren’t going right, thus prompting me to execute my first escape.

My first travel to Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas ushered me to many realizations about life and dreams. It led me to check my own and evaluate how I was living and making my life. It didn’t only make me see its intermittent blue and green waters with an impeccable backdrop of the cave and lush environment, but it allowed me to see more of myself deeply.

As nature opened its door and assured me that I could enjoy freedom exploring it bit by bit during one of my darkest hours, I was also opening myself to the possibility of not reconciling with my dream or focusing my energy to new goals. These thoughts kept me drifted the entire time I was having my inner self-dialogue in that newly discovered place.

The sun bade farewell from the other side of the beach. I also began packing my things and got myself ready to travel back to Manila with renewed courage of facing the world I chose to evade for two days of staying in Quezon.

I reached home before midnight. Upon entering my room, I immediately cleared my study table, kept all my law books and reading materials inside a box, turned my laptop on, and began writing the story of my first travel. The moment I started threading words, I knew something in me had changed— like a torch that had been lit up in the middle of darkness.

Then days went by differently. I became a volunteer of a group advocating for sustainable environment where I participated in lectures, seminars, and tree-planting activities because I learned that I have a heart for our environment. It turned me into a regular visitor of islands, mountains, and isolated places in the country because I discovered that traveling makes me see the world better. It led me to the creation of my travel blog because nature forced me to write wonderful narratives even if my words couldn’t give justice to its beauty. My blog also paved way for my work to be published on a magazine and for me to be interviewed in one of the travel segments of a major local TV network.

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When I thought I was detaching myself from my dream the day I ran to Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas, I was actually looking for it.

Four years after my first escape, I have already conquered 51 of the 81 provinces of the Philippines and landed on four Asian countries. I finally gave up my dream of becoming a lawyer upon realizing that I no longer possess passion for law which is the key ingredient in pursuing a dream. However, losing it reawakened my passion for writing. So right now, I am back to school pursuing a graduate degree in communications.

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“I think it’s good that you didn’t pursue law, because you look happier and fulfilled now compared before. Are you?” a friend quipped while we were having coffee after my class.

Instead of giving a quick response, I just paused because my first travel flashed back to me. I was supposed to say that it speaks deeply of great part of me after surpassing life’s lowest point; that it fuels me to weave beautiful stories not only of nature and humanity, but more importantly of myself; and that four years after an escape, I learned to quit a dream without quitting life.

However, her question rendered me speechless because real happiness is unspeakable.

So I just smiled and said, “Yeah right.” Then we both laughed.

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This is my entry for Wego’s “Your Life-Changing Travel Story: A Blogging Contest.” If you like my story to win, please LIKE my entry and feel free to SHARE it with your friends. THANK YOU! 🙂

Footsteps in the Snow

When you almost lost the will to pursue something, are you going to give up or proceed?

Earlier that day I was battling with my reluctant body about the worthiness of this 2-hour journey to a snow place when I was supposed to be enjoying quality bedtime since restlessness for almost three days of being nomads around Japan has finally kicking in.

I was later convinced that I had to proceed because just like what a friend said, “this part of the trip is included in our itinerary.” In that instance, I could not reason out the spontaneity of a group trip since I was the one who made our itinerary. That’s added to the fact that I signed a lifetime subscription to the mantra that “a friend should never be left alone.” So I woke up early to join Kuya Ron who was very adamant to take the adventure to the white mountains while the girls were having their time at the dreamland.

The night before, I received a message from a friend discussing the possibility of snowfall in most parts of Japan so I geared up for it.  Right after breakfast, I took the courage to move my feet outside before I change my mind and go back to bed.

We walked fast enough to the nearest local train station and took the shinkansen (bullet train) to town of Yuzawa. Cliche as it may sound but my second ride at shinkansen was one of the best rides during that trip. All along I thought it would bring me to lullaby due to sleeplessness in the past days but never did I feel taking a nap on the duration of the train ride because Japan’s countryside was very scenic. When my eyes started spotting houses covered by white ashes all the more I got excited to alight and head straight to the ski place.

We seated comfortably for an hour. Upon hearing a voice announcing that we would soon be arriving at Yuzawa station, I made myself ready to take punches of shutter. Then the train door opened. When I took that first step outside, I became immobile for a second. An adage saying that the hardest part of doing something is the beginning has been proven correct. Facing the unkind wind outside was very challenging. I was wondering whether we alighted at the right station or we just entered the world’s biggest fridge. My consciousness got blown away by the -4 degrees Celsius temperature. Freezing to me was an irony.

I began looking around. Not far from where I was standing and chilling at the same time were scenes totally new to me— someone was raking his roof, a man paving his doorstep and a worker clearing the driveway of private and public cars. Everything was new for someone like me who grew up in a tropical country.

Soon, we boarded the bus that would bring us to Kagura Ski Resort— the nearest ski resort from Tokyo. We later learned that all passengers were heading to the same direction making it easy for us to locate our destination.

After twenty minutes we finally have ourselves settled in a surrounding where mountains were capped by gleaming white.

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It took me sometime to believe that it was real because I was still entertaining the likelihood that I was just dreaming or maybe I was in heaven— if there was such place here on earth.  Me surrounded by snow; me in Japan during winter; and me traveled a thousand miles to reach this place seemed bizarre.

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I hastily removed my gloves without minding the cold and touched the snow. I didn’t care if it made my hands numb. I was enjoying what I was doing, every bit of it. The word “bliss” in my vocabulary had gone to obliviousness for what I feel at that exact moment was beyond sheer joy and elucidation. The spontaneous candidness and purest expression of a child seemed to have entered my body slowly. I didn’t fight back. I just let it consume me. I was like a kid with burning fascination to something I just saw and experienced for the first time. It may be a typical scene to those who live there, but it was for me a “could-be-once-in-a-lifetime-event”.

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I turned to my back; my travel companion was whiling away his time few meters from me. We were too overwhelmed taking each moment by ourselves. While he was mustering the perfect angles for selfie shots and when he wasn’t looking at me, I tried grabbing a pea-size snow and secretly (now it isn’t a secret) put it inside my mouth. Yes, it tasted like an ordinary ice (hahaha)! I should’ve brought condensed milk with me.  🙂

Although the ground was in freezing ice, the skies were in deep blue while the sun was shining bright above us. I imagined it smiling at what we were doing, just like the sun I used to draw when I was in grade school.

We went up to the ski area through a cable car. The mountain slopes were filled with people skiing here and there. Kuya Ron and I were the only people walking above the surface of hard ice. No wonder why some who noticed us were clandestinely laughing. We had forgone the chance to ski due to high rental fees for entrance, ski gears and basic training considering that we have limited to try it. Besides, walking at the snow was already enough for us.

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We waited again for a bus to Yuzawa train station at the lower ground after two hours of brief sojourn. Since we still have ample time to wander while waiting, we walked along the empty highway adjacent to Kagura. The place was quiet and calm, and covered by snow with only few houses around. I started wondering how this place would be like if it wasn’t winter.

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Dog Hotel

While enjoying the remaining time before leaving, I thought of farewell. Then I realized that I shouldn’t feel bad about it. At an early age, I’ve got used to saying goodbye and hello to places, learned to leave home and return, and traced the unknown so it would not be new to me later on. I became fond of exploring what’s out there and see things beyond my typical world which led me to believe that I was born to read maps. And finding this place covered by snow somewhere in the globe wasn’t just an achievement. For me it was victory.

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After sometime, the bus arrived; we left, had our lunch at half past 1pm, and boarded the train to Tokyo. I had the chance to check the photos I captured when we were tracing our way back. I could only wish our other travel companions were with us so there would be no need for me to show off my photos, adventures and my first footsteps in the snow to them. But only those who didn’t give up their will to pursue something will reap the reward. I was glad I proceeded.

Overnight Affair with Pearl Farm, Davao

Lively music started to occupy the atmosphere while men in red floral shirts commenced on beating wooden drums as soon as we alighted from the boat. Ladies wearing their friendly smiles ushered us to the receiving area. Fresh pineapple juice was served for the guests to be refreshed and have a first experience of comfort. There were other races with us, but we were all treated like princes and princesses. It was a kind of Pearl Farm welcome no one will ever forget.

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Pearl Farm Lighthouse

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Reception Area

The attendant escorted us to our respective cottages after the visual orientation at the reception area. Our room transmits a very refreshing vibe as it is made up of woods. Upon entering, a bamboo-framed bed adorned by white silk draped from the ceiling enticed us to relax. Right beside our bed was the veranda. It has two wooden chairs and a table, and a scene that impeccably blended with the rustic milieu— a view of the Samal island, and the whole Pearl Farm resort.  The view was beautiful, so beautiful.

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Our Room

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Veranda

We would have wanted to stay longer in our room but our limited time prompted us to go out and begin our overnight affair with Pearl Farm.

At the foot of our cottage was the only restaurant in the resort where we all splurged on buffet meals. It’s facing the infinity pool and the translucent beach of Samal. Beside the pool reclines other cottages, built just above the seawater—they are more private and more expensive.

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Pearl Farm Restaurant

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Infinity Pool

Next thing we know we were boarded on a speed boat. The resort has an exclusive swimming area across the Pearl Farm’s beachfront— the Malipano island. It is a small island with brimming white sand and clean waters. There were only three groups roaming in the beach, including ours. There was a feeling of exclusivity and being privileged. We later realized that owning an entire beach is easy when someone is willing to shell out a little and if he knows where to pick the right spot for vacation, even if it is summer.

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Malipano Island

There was a diving spot not afar from the shore. We swam to reach it. We dive countlessly until we have gone enervated. We rolled and let ourselves be consumed by the sand. We took pictures until our batteries ran out of life. We spent the whole afternoon talking mostly nonsense, interrupted by serious realizations of growing up. We played like kids. And we all enjoyed like there’s no more next sun.

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Powdery White Sand of Malipano

Darkness has come too fast. Aside from the melodious resonances springing from mother earth’s occupants, a band was playing in the dining area. Another buffet meal, another night with friends, but this time it was being accompanied by a band composed of a mother, father, daughter and son. It was wise for the resort to hire a family of musicians that would serenade the guests. They keep us awed and inspired by showing how a family works, grows and sings together.

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Dining Area

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Dinner Time

After sometime, they started to request the guests to sing with them. My friends were bullying me and forcing me to go up the stage. I wanted to but I was trembling.  There were lots of foreigners watching and listening. They were admiring the singers. Last thing I would want was to destroy their night and the reputation of talented Filipino artists. So I declined.

The night turned unhurried as we listened to the music while devouring Davao’s fresh produce. There is a mini bar located at the lighthouse. The view of Davao skyline from Samal island was very palpable from there. The bar has no dance floor, DJs, and eardrum-breaking sounds, just soft music partnered with our glasses of wine. It was soothing to be there. That moment was incomparable.

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View From The Lighthouse

We all wanted to while away the time at the bar, but its operation hour was until 11 in the evening only. The resort preferred the guests to relax in their homey cottages and enjoy bedtime. We did. We woke up late than our agreed time the following morning.

The heart of our conversation upon finishing our first breakfast and last meal at the resort was the relaxation it has imbibed within us. Although we were all saddened by the fact that our vacation has to come to an end anytime soon; that in less than five hours, we will be back to a place that reminds us to work hard to earn money for our next vacation, still, we were fortunate beings to be deserving of experiencing a relief such as this.

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Breakfast

We packed then boarded the boat that would sail us 45 minutes to Davao City proper. We relished our overnight isolation. It was the isolation we needed after forgoing a supposed trip to Boracay in exchange of Pearl Farm.

Our group initially planned to spend our summer in Boracay. However, since all I wanted was to escape from the troop of tourists that would surely visit one of the world’s most sought after beaches, I tried pretty hard to convince my friends that veering away from the crowd was best way to enjoy summer.

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Pearl Farm Cottages

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Right Side Of Pearl Farm As Viewed From The Boat

Though none of us have been to Boracay yet circa 2011, with several phone calls and consistent convincing made, they all concurred with me. I then began mapping our trip to Davao from first day up to the last. We waited for so many moons until the time to finally materialize our plans has come.

We had discussed it while sailing back to the mainland. My friends teased how I transformed into a resort manager-slash-realtor just to persuade them to go to Davao. We all laughed about it and blabbed the activities we could have possibly done in Boracay. In spite of postponing that supposed trip, I was happy bringing them to Pearl Farm because one thing that was very noticeable on their faces brought by our short stay there was happiness. It was so genuine with no hint of regret.

Young Mountaineer’s Journey to Summit

People would always want to be somewhere. We would always want to be someone. We would always want something. However, sometimes, we didn’t become someone we pictured to be. We are not in some place we wanted to be. We have something, but that’s not what we long for. That’s when life brings us to the total opposite of the world we dreamed of—of what we envisioned. Then we start wondering what brought us where we are.

Was it destiny or choice?

When we found ourselves doing the things we are passionate about, like traveling or hiking, was it fate working or was it free will overtaking?

The Peaks

Beautiful summits of Mt. Maculot in Batangas and Mt. Pulag in Benguet rendered him wordless. But the surreal view of these mountains could possibly be hammered by a scene of an erupting volcano—a scenario he wishes to witness that would gratify his eyes, only if it doesn’t destroy lives.

Mt. Purgatory posing its immense Pine forest environment, Mt. Kanlaon showcasing its volcanic nature, Mt. Maculot flaunting its splendid view, Mt. Apo boasting its unique boulders trail feature, and Mt. Makiling offering its budget hikes are his favorites. He admires the diverseness of these mountains.

There were also times in his climbs when mountains failed to meet his expectations. One instance was upon reaching the summit of Pico de Loro for the first time, the iconic rock column buried itself behind the white mist making it not visible from the peak. From this experience, he learned to expect less to avoid disappointment in each climb.

Mountains have the capacity to move one’s soul and turn a dormant spirit alive. Although they bring fulfillment he always long desired, for him, each mountain is unique and has its own charm. All the treks and hikes he pursued left integral marks in his heart. However, there is only one unforgettable climb that ultimately tested his patience and physical limits.

“Definitely, my most memorable climb was when I successfully reached the summit of Mt. Apo together with other mountaineers. It was my birthday climb which happened in January 2013 and it probably was the most challenging hike I did so far. All nature’s elements conspired to dampen my spirit— intense and relentless downpour, muddy and slippery grounds, obstructed paths, overwhelming steeps, and raging rivers that we were forced to cross. We traversed Mt. Talomo and Mt. Apo in Davao Region for four days. I’m really glad we made it back. I would definitely not do this crazy traverse again in years.”

Eventhough he trailed so many gigantic landforms, Mt. Makiling— his training ground— will always be his home.

The Beginning of Trails

He first summited Mt. Dagulgol, followed by another mountain, he aimed again for another, and then the list appears infinite. At present, he already has 49 mountains under his belt including the three highest mountains in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. He unbelievably achieved it in a span of almost two years while juggling his work and personal life.

“I feel so incomplete if a month passes without a mountain. I think it’s safe to say that I’m a certified mountain addict,” he shared.

The discovery of his passion to reach towering peaks came about when he was compelled to do something, not realizing that it was only heaven’s way of leading him to a life he never thought he would live and nurture— life where he sees no retirement. So he has this revelation.

“An event in my life inspired me to climb mountains. Back in my college days, we had this Entomology class that required us to procure live specimen of insects, because of it, I, together with my fellow biology students, began exploring trails. As time goes by, I started crossing paths with a number of people whose passion for mountaineering was thriving.  These people became my inspiration to go for more, to seek for higher mountains sans noticing that eventually, I was acquiring the same passion they initially have.”

He carries this passion wherever he goes even if he’s back in the city to face the more tragic world. The doctrine being practiced by most mountaineers that says, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time,” keeps him grounded all the time.

The Mountaineer

He is 21 years young, a non-practicing biologist from Manila who loves outdoors. Aside from hiking, he has an unceasing penchant for heritage and culture. At his age, one would be wondering what kind of fulfillment he gets from mountaineering. Is the fascination that overwhelming for him to make it part of his life?

“I enjoy climbing for several reasons: First, I am a nature lover, it’s there where I can appreciate nature the most; second, being able to identify the cities and other mountains seen from mountain summits brings great fascination to me; third, just like a passionate collector, I enjoy climbing different mountains, the more and varied, the better.  Climbing is a passion-driven activity,” he shared.

Being a young mountaineer, he recognizes the dangers and difficulties of climbing especially for first timers, so he always keeps in mind that God is there to guide him because the primary reason why he climbs is to appreciate His creations. He never breeds fear for he believes that fear has no room for hiking.

Mountaineering also has scored great impact in his life. It taught him to be economical by forgoing his desire for material things. Instead, he learned to save his money and allot it for his next journey to another summit. Climbing mountains has become his luxury.

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Bulusan Volcano

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Mt. Apo

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Mt. Balingkilat

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Mt. Kanlaon

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Mt. Maculot

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Mt. Pulag

Mt. Timpoong

Mt. Timpoong

Mt. Kitanglad

Mt. Kitanglad

Although he had always wanted to be close to nature ever since, mountaineering never crossed his mind until he met warm bodies who are into it. At first, he thought that it is expensive and requires a bunch of skills which he presumes he lacks. But when he finally gave it a try, he suddenly realized that he has a heart for it. The call to brave and surmount mountains was something he couldn’t resist. From then, it became his hobby until eventually evolved into passion.

A turn of tide is something that could possibly happen to any ordinary being. He is no exception. He didn’t expect that he would live a life of a mountaineer until destiny played tricks on him by allowing people whose lives are too attached to climbing cross his.

Was it a connivance of fate and chance or was it really his choice to be a mountaineer?

“I went to college and took up a degree in Biology. My first hike was when I joined my friends in Mt. Daguldol. These major decisions in life which I made were purely my choices. I believe that things in life are not dictated by the thread of fate. For me, it’s all a matter of choices and decisions. Just always put a heart into whatever decisions you make to avoid regrets in the end. And remember to seek guidance from someone wiser and experienced,” he said while recollecting the significance of his choices.

The encounters he had with mountaineers before have reasons and happened by chance. From there, the cards are on him whether or not to follow their paths.

“Being the captain of my own ship, I’d chosen to follow. Now I am here, living a life of a mountaineer. At this point, my love for mountains is at its peak so I am not thinking of giving up climbing for something else because one of the greatest rewards on earth is found when you are standing between heaven and earth… at the summit.”— Ivan Briñas Cultura

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Ivan writes his mountaineering experiences at ivanlakwatsero.com

Special Thanks to trampingphilippines.com for allowing me to use your photos through Ivan.

My Six Favorite Photos in Hong Kong

My visit to Hong Kong circa 2011 spelled achievement to me. It was my first out of the country travel— a birthday gift and Christmas gift to myself and vacation in one. Although it is already nearing to two years now, the spontaneity of everything happened in that trip remains vivid in my mind. The entire experience can be best described through my captured images.

So here are my Six Favorite Photos in Hong Kong:

1- Nathan Road

Nathan Road

Nathan Road

The cold weather of Hong Kong during Yuletide makes walking for hours more bearable and enjoyable. I did it almost every evening at Nathan Road until my feet succumb to exhaustion. With brimming lights around that could hold one’s eyes fixed and signage I didn’t even understand, Nathan Road— one of the busiest roads in Kowloon— turns fascinating at night.

Gadgets and souvenir stores are also piled up in both sides of the road enticing tourists to splurge on different items. Since I didn’t have enough means to spend on gadgets, I just pretended to be a smart tourist to not buy anything. And it worked for me. I just didn’t know if my street-smart aura convinced them though.

My cramped hostel is situated at Nathan Road in Kowloon. It was also here where I got to know a kababayan (fellow Filipino) making a living through selling Hongkong’s souvenir stuff. She was my instant Google map. On my first day, I peppered her with lots of “wheres”— where’s the best place to eat; where’s the cheapest place to buy pasalubong; where’s the most coveted area in Hong Kong and a lot more. For her not to notice that a butthead tourist like me was already becoming big a fuss on her business, I had to purchase some items from her shop. Yes, we had a give and take relationship.

2- Ferrero Rocher Christmas Tree

Ferrero Rocher Christmas Tree

Ferrero Rocher Christmas Tree

My timing was perfect when I traveled to Hong Kong in December. Vibrant decors and various Christmas trees with colorful designs filled its corners that served as attractions in the country. Among them, this Ferrero Rocher Christmas tree was my favorite. Aside from having an almost indistinguishable similarity with the real chocolate especially in the morning, it is also unique and looks lovelier come nighttime.

Like kids running towards something that made their eyes delight— that’s how the scene looked like when tourists were lining up for a memento picture at the Ferrero Rocher Christmas tree along Nathan Road.  I too wasn’t spared by the hype to have this obligatory Ferrero shot.

3- Pizza at Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut

It isn’t because it was the first meal I had the moment I arrived in Hong Kong; it was one of the restaurants I am familiar with; it was just near the place where I stayed, but because pizza at Pizza Hut was damn delicious that it became mandatory for me to devour it every day.  Smoked ham, cucumber, peaches and mayo just blended perfectly for me to have a taste of heaven in Hong Kong.

I did try Hong Kong’s authentic food when I got the chance to roam at the road adjacent to Mongkok, but my palate didn’t find them palatable. Eating at posh restaurants was out of the options because they were too pricey for me. To no avail, I just made myself contented to the same fastfood chains found in the whole Philippines. No regrets though because Pizza Hut got me satisfied.

4- Mass Transit Railroad (MTR)

MTR

MTR

I have been molded by time and experience when it comes to riding trains in the Philippines. When pushing, running past another commuter, and fitting yourself in a train full of passengers are the players of the game, I am confident I have those skills acquired for a decade of being a regular train rider. However, my adept status in riding trains rendered useless in Hong Kong because its MTR stations are very orderly, systematic, safe, and contemporary. I can’t help but look back at my country of origin and compare.

Transportation is faster and more fun in Hong Kong through its MTR. It gives convenience and comfort to commuters. Transferring from one line to another is very easy since MTR lines are connected. It doesn’t entail long and tiring walks. I was impressed and somehow felt envious on how its government implemented such structured and well-ordered way of transportation while hoping that the same would be actualized in the Philippines.

5- Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland

Even up to this date, I still can’t believe I have finally set my foot here. Disneyland is every child’s dreamland. This was one of the reasons why I look forward to visiting Hong Kong since I started saving for my travels. It is not one’s ordinary themed park because it is a living testament that your childhood beliefs about magic were not just inventions of your ingenious imagination. Disneyland is a place where magic is real and alive.

Pictures of me taken here reveal the kid in me; they exude genuine happiness of a child whose only dream just came into fruition. The rides, castles, and Disney characters transported me to a real magical experience and made me feel 15 years younger.

(I intend to write a separate post for Disneyland.)

6- Sunset

Sunset in Hong Kong

Sunset in Hong Kong

A few minutes following my sojourn in Disneyland, I was held static once again when a fireball in the sky resting beneath two mountains flaunted its horizons. I was rushing to catch a MTR when I made a sudden stop just to stare at it. As always, it was captivating. Last thing I didn’t expect would see was a sunset. And it showed during the time I wasn’t chasing it.

I guess it was a perfect way to cap my one whole day affair with the Disney characters. Believe me when I say that when God makes a perfect day, He gives everything.

These are only six of the hundreds of photo souvenirs during my first trip abroad. I am not stopping here for I foresee more first landings in different countries in the yet-to-come years of my life.

All firsts may not always be memorable, but they are all remarkable. If they are both, you would want to do it again. Hong Kong, being the first country I have been to outside my homeland, would always be both.